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CHRISTIANA THORPE’S BIOGRAPHY: THE MORE WE GET, THE MORE WE WANT

By Andrew Keili

“The controversial issue of nullification of votes in the run-off did not affect the outcome of the results as stated in the declaration…There is one important element to highlight: international elections standards say that ‘the invalidation of votes does not require a repeat of the polling exercise if the act of invalidation does not affect the outcome of the poll.’ …… APC had 29,004 nullifications and SLPP 169,054. After nullification, the results were APC 950,407 and SLPP 789,651. If for arguments sake, the nullified votes were added to the declared results, the first and second positions would still have been the same. Thus, pertinent, timely and authenticated feedback from NEC monitors as well as national and international observers in the field attested to findings that necessitated the nullification.”

-Dr Christiana Thorpe on the results of the 2007 Presidential Election

“The reason given in the decision of NEC for invalidating 169,054 of votes cast in my favour and 29,004 votes cast in favour of the APC Candidate was that there was excess voting in the 477 polling stations where those votes were cast. That statement was not supported by facts. No Polling Station Results Form given to Party Agents in respect of any of the 477 polling stations was mentioned or produced to support the allegation of excess voting in any of those polling stations. By invalidating the valid votes legitimately cast at those 477 polling stations……She thereby disenfranchised that number of electors. She had no power whatsoever in law or under the Constitution to do that…How can it be said truthfully and honestly…..in an election where (my) opponent secured a majority of 20696 votes, (that) the invalidation did not affect the outcome of the poll? This was an incongruous and illogical statement….It is a total distortion of the simplest and most elementary calculation.”

-Vice President Solomon Berewa complaining about Dr Thorpe’s handling of the 2007 Presidential election result.

Christiana Thorpe’ defense is quoted from her biography “Reach in for the stars”. Solomon Berewa’s accusation of injustice is from his autobiography “A new perspective of governance, leadership, conflict and nation building in Sierra Leone.”

Both are eminent personalities and devout Catholics. One was a nun who later left her order for secular life. The other would-have-been a Catholic Catechist or Priest and father of a Priest. Both are highly intelligent and respected people who have different versions of the famous 2007 elections that brought President Ernest Koroma to power. The argument may always linger. Ironically, Christiana Thorpe’s biography was written by Dr. Michael Wundah, Senior Lecturer at the Lambeth College of Further Education, UK, who also wrote the foreward to Solomon Berewa’s autobiography.

There are many life events that define Christiana Thorpe but it will always be her tenure as Chief Electoral Commissioner that will interest particularly partisan detractors. Her biography was launched last week and it makes an interesting read.

Let’s leave elections alone for a moment, remove the enigmatic veil and examine the interesting life of Dr Christiana Ayoka Mary Thorpe.

The biography wades through her early life, primary school days, secondary school years at St. Joseph’s convent and St, Edwards and her life as a nun before enlightening the reader on her post -nun life in various spheres of national life including her stint as Education Minister, the founding of FAWE and her more renowned role as Chief Electoral Commissioner.

In the book Christiana vividly recalls having a big fight with her elder brother Olu (also called Joshua) over ‘krawo’. “It was Joshua’s turn in the kitchen and for some reason or other; he had refused to heat up the left over that morning. Christiana did the task and immediately the food was ready, Joshua grabbed the pot from her. All hell broke loose and the rice was thrown all over the place. “Both of us received a never to be forgotten thrashing from our mother. The first six lashes given to both of us were for wasting the food.” Christiana explained. “I then received another six for not lodging a complaint and challenging my elder brother to a fight while Joshua received twelve additional lashes for bullying me. My bottom was sore for two days.” She concluded. Tough love indeed!

This “toughie” was the national record holder for three consecutive years in the Junior 300 metres race between 1963 and 1966. The book contains some interesting interactions with her seven siblings in her closely knit family.

But why did she abandon her life as a nun after 20 years and enter secular life in 1992?  She relates personal comments made:

“I started feeling really frustrated because there were things I thought I could do, but was not able to because I was at the convent. In the convent you are very time-bound. The more I thought about it and interacted with the women in the community, the more I began to realize I was constrained in the convent. I really think I had a lot more to give than the time that was allotted to me I found myself veering on the side of what people needed, not on the law of the convent.”

The accolades to Dr Thorpe from former students and colleagues stress on her discipline and commitment to whatever she does.

A former student, Cecilia Barrie, now Principal of St. Joseph’s Makeni where Christiana taught waxes effusively:

“The finest and most credible person I have ever worked with. I saw her as a role model and a mentor. She was incredibly dedicated and committed to her job…..She was a great, tough and untiring figure. She had this fierce conviction and the courage to see things done and in the right way. She was not only tough but she was also consistent. I admired her strength and determination. ……She was referred to as the “Iron Lady” in school for her admirable personality.”

Former FAWE President Elfrida Scott is equally effusive:

“Dr. Thorpe is an efficient administrator, firm and meticulous and can be aptly described as ‘Iron Lady.’ …She never minces her words; she respects everyone, but fears none. She does not give in to threats and intimidation; qualities which have enabled her to withstand the challenges of her current position. Through FAWE (SL) Dr. Christiana Thorpe has given the greatest gift to girls and women of Sierra Leone – the gift of Education. She has also positively influenced and will continue to influence the lives of thousands of girls and women in Sierra Leone.”

Her brother Prince who wrote the foreward to the book says: “Throughout the many years that I have known her, I have always been struck by what I consider to be the most endearing and remarkable of her many sterling qualities –her immutable sense of devotion to the Almighty, underpinned by a unique yearning of wanting to be of service to her community and especially, to the less fortunate in society.”

The book endeavours to explain her close relationship with Ex NPRC Minister and Head of OIC Dr Sam Maligi. When asked. “What do you think when Christiana refers to you as her anchor and rudder?”, Maligi answers: “To me, that is a respectable, respectful, honest and sincere phrase. It means that we are both good, close friends, who made in the past, and continue to make sacrifice to help each other. We watch each other’s back. It means we seek each other’s advice when it comes to job, professional, patriotic and nationalist matters……We are both passionate about the progress of this country. And, so may it be forever!”

Dr Christiana Thorpe was appointed Minister of Education in the Valentine Strasser NPRC government in 1994 and introduced the 6334 system of education. She was appointed by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and sworn in on the 16th of May, 2005, as the Chief Electoral Commissioner.

One has to inevitably come back to her role as Chief Electoral Commissioner during two elections which SLPP lost in 2007 and 2012.  The book, though providing a lot of statistics and explanations from Dr Thorpe do not ask the hard hitting questions those SLPP supporters who questioned the conduct and/or results of these elections would have asked. I was however pleased that in an interview last week Dr Thorpe was very emphatic in her opposition to overtures being made in certain quarters for a third term for President Koroma. May be-just may be when she steps down from her current role and is unfettered, she will proffer her candid views on a few difficult-to-understand issues such as:

1. The full range of accusations levied by Mr. Solomon Berewa especially that dealing with the contravention of local electoral laws and accusations related to the “rushed” bringing down of the NEC website.

2. Her views on the 2012 election results and accusations by the opposition of malpractices. Does she on hindsight consider her statement “Go Police” as insensitive and inflammatory?

3. The effectiveness of the single Electoral Act 2012 especially in the light of the debacle related to the award of constituencies 5 and 15 (predominant SLPP constituencies) to the APC through questionable legal niceties.

4. Her views on SLPP’s refusal to give a Parliamentary symbol to Sam Maligi for the 2007 Parliamentary election.

5. Her personal relationship and that of Sam Maligi to Brig. Maada Bio who removed both of them from Ministerial Office when he took over from Valentine Strasser as Head of State.

My guess is Dr Thorpe is not done with her biography. She will probably write another one that will shed light on these issues as well as proffer her personal views on many important governance issues.

Congratulations to Dr Thorpe for launching her book and her foundation.

Ponder my thoughts.

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